Volunteer firefighters not impressed when 911 call goes dead

Volunteer firefighters not impressed when 911 call goes dead

Members of the Fredericton Junction Fire Department are not happy with how a 911 operator answered a request for backup at a burning building in the country. 

Dennis Harris was the only member of the volunteer force on call the afternoon of Nov. 9, when the 911 operator called about a fire in Tracyville, about 30 kilometres south of Fredericton.

Knowing he couldn't fight the fire alone, Harris asked the operator to call for backup from two neighbouring fire departments.

"Do you not have a dispatch to do that?" the operator replied before the line went dead.

Harris continued trying to speak with the operator but never got a response as he set off in the fire truck for Tracyville alone.

In New Brunswick, 911 operators are not responsible for dispatching additional resources. 

As it turned out, other firefighters, including some from Fredericton Junction, did come to help Harris fight the blaze, but the building, a large storage garage, was a complete loss. 

"Well, my reaction was, obviously, I was a little disappointed with the help provided," Tim Donovan, the fire chief for the Fredericton Junction Fire Department, said of the 911 operator's abrupt response.

But he also said he knows the 911 system, also called public service access points, is responsible only for alerting fire departments to fires, not for anything else, including calling in additional firefighters.

"So, we all understand that," Donovan said. "So we look after dispatching other resources on our own after that call was hung up on," said Donovan. 

"And we do, if we have the manpower, have somebody at the fire hall to do that dispatching for us. But sometimes it's a struggle, that's for sure." 

The Department of Justice and Public Safety confirmed that calling for backup is not the job of a 911 operator.

But in the case of the call to Fredericton Junction fire call, an extra effort was made to get backup, even though the help wasn't relayed to the lone firefighter at the time. 

"It is our understanding that the operator …  did in fact contact the New Maryland and Oromocto fire departments, immediately after transferring the original call," said Geneviève Mallet-Chiasson, spokesperson for the Department of Justice and Public Safety. 

New system coming

Donovan is hopeful a new regional dispatch system, set to be put in place as early as next year, will keep incidents such as this from happening again.

"What's going to happen then is when we want something extra, we'll be able to talk back and forth on the new trunk radio system," he said. "And they'll be able to help us out with other agencies that we need, like NB Power, RCMP.

"So the new system should alleviate that and be much better for everybody."